Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!
Today I have the pleasure of speaking to a Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off (SPFBO) finalist and semi-finalist author, an established star in the Indie fantasy scene, the one and only L.L. MacRae!
L.L.’s currently published works include: Dragon Spirits (epic fantasy): The Iron Crown and The Citrine Key; World of Linaria (epic fantasy): Moroda, Palom, Amarah, Isa, Rise of a Sky Pirate, and Companion Guide; Kouzlo Saga (urban fantasy – under L.L. McNeil): Crimson Eyes, Crimson Bone, Crimson Fang, Crimson Soul, and Pandemonium Rift.
P.L.: Such a privilege to be able to interview you, L.L.! Welcome to Six Elementals Interviews! Can you please provide the readers of this interview with some background on you as an author? How did your writing journey begin? What inspired you to become a writer, and how did you get started?
L.L.: Thank you so much, P.L.! It’s such an honour to take part in this interview series as I’ve really enjoyed reading these! I’m not sure I’d call myself an established star, but I really appreciate the kind words!
Professionally I was a copywriter for a number of years (and occasionally do a little freelance), and before that I worked in Marketing Communications. I’ve been making a living from writing for pretty much all my career!
Escapism is really important to me, and was a huge part of my childhood. I was always scribbling down stories and doodling characters (usually dragons or wolves!), and in the 2010s I started taking part in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where you’re challenged to write 50,000 words of a novel in one month. I did that for a few years, and the story I wrote for the 2014 challenge was an idea I’d had since I was around 15 or 16.
That went on to become my debut novel, Moroda, which was published in 2017. I published the sequel, Palom, in 2018. And then in 2019, just before I published Amarah, I went full-time as an author, swapping corporate copy for magic and dragons!
It sounds quite romantic, but in reality, I was made redundant and I decided to do the author thing full-time instead of getting another job. I haven’t looked back since!
As far as inspiration, it comes back to escapism. I loved playing the Final Fantasy video games as a kid (especially VII and IX), which really introduced me to epic worlds, sweeping narratives, incredible casts of characters – especially where the side characters have full back stories and importance.
I think if you consume that much media, it’s natural to think “well if they were my characters, what would they be like?” Or “what would my towns and cities be like in my own worlds?” and as an only child, highly introverted who hid in their room a lot, my imagination and creativity kept me making up my own stories and putting ideas to paper.
P.L.: That’s a very inspiring story! The first story I read from you was The Iron Crown, which went on to glory in SPFBO7, making it all the way to the finals! Congratulations, and very well deserved! Having read the book, I loved it, and can see why it was such a deserving finalist entry! How have your SPFBO experiences been, being a semi-finalist from SPFBO4 and a finalist this past year? What have you learned, if anything, from all your success in this particular contest?
L.L.: Thank you so much! You wrote a fabulous review of it, too, which I am incredibly grateful for! It’s all a bit surreal looking back. There’s so much luck involved with SPFBO. If your story isn’t a particular judge’s cup of tea, then no matter how well its written, the book won’t go very far. I was fortunate to land with a group that enjoyed epic fantasy, and happened to like mine slightly more than the other very deserving books!
My first experience was in SPFBO4, when I submitted Moroda. It made the semi-finals, but I never received any reviews or feedback. I was also very new to the indie author scene and quite overwhelmed by everything, and didn’t really know many other authors, so I felt quite detached and somewhat lost? I didn’t have the huge emotional rollercoaster or knowledge of what was going on, so that was quite good, actually!
It did make me realise that perhaps I was okay at writing and that I wanted to apply again whenever I next had an eligible title.
That didn’t happen until 2021. The Iron Crown published I think it was two or three days before SPFBO7 opened for entry. In hindsight, I am a little upset with myself. I was in burnout hurrying to get it finished before the deadline and skipped the proofreading stage. It’s a rookie error made in haste, and though the books were corrected a few weeks later, it was a point that was picked up in many reviews. Big shooting myself in the foot there!
However, it made it to the finals (I really didn’t think it would), and it was such an amazing feeling. I don’t know about other people (or authors!), but I doubt myself A LOT. I never think I’m good enough or deserving of praise, so to have it chosen as a finalist out of a group of 30 books meant so much to me.
The competition was pretty much over when the finalists were selected. The other finalists and I are all friends and we would cheer each other on when someone received a glowing review, and commiserate whenever a harsh or negative review came through. It was an amazing experience and I feel immensely fortunate to have been involved.
I’ve learned that it’s a contest with so much luck and rolling of the dice, that the best part of it isn’t making a semi-finalist or finalist, or even the reviews you might get – it’s making friends with other authors who are in the same boat as you. I now speak to other epic fantasy authors and bounce ideas around, I now have “met” some of my other indie author heroes and learned they have the same self-doubts as me. And of course there are a HUGE amount of eyes on the contest – it means many people who may not have otherwise heard of your book might just find their next favourite read.
I’ve seen a definite uptick in invitations to interviews, guest posts, and people generally picking up The Iron Crown or another of my books, and I attribute much of that to SPFBO. Yes, being a finalist was definitely more impactful for that than if I’d been cut in the earlier rounds, but as I said, that really is the luck of the draw. I’d recommend anyone give it a go – just don’t go into it thinking “I’ll win this” – go into it with an open mind, chat to the other authors, make friends, see what’s doing well and why, and take on board feedback.
P.L.: That’s an excellent point! It’s all about the experience, and the relationships one forges, as opposed to merely about winning! What do you think are the ingredients to make a great book? What does L.L. MacRae consider when crafting your own books, some of which have gone on to be considered for awards?
L.L.: Oh gosh, I really don’t know. My tastes vary wildly so it’s difficult to objectively list them out! I feel like most people want to “connect” to characters in some way. I’m actually not particularly sure what that means (and I struggle with characters quite a bit). I feel like…as long as the writing is clear, you can follow what’s happening – whether its a dialogue scene, a battle, some incredible worldbuilding – then you’re doing well. If its an interesting world or plot, or there are things to be discovered, that often goes into a great read! It’s the feeling of “oooh, what’ll happen next?” to keep readers turning pages.
I mentioned earlier that escapism is very important to me, and that’s a key component in my own writing. The world is a horrible enough place, so I definitely write on the more light-hearted end of things. I want people to enjoy going into my worlds, to have fun. To imagine what it would be like talking to a dragon, or walking through an enchanted forest, or flying on a sky pirate’s airship, or whatever it might be.
I want people to have adventures with a rag-tag group of people who are all flawed but trying to do their best – whether that’s right or wrong. I also want to show relationships between people that perhaps aren’t always perfect? Whether it’s a daughter running away from her abusive, controlling, narcissistic mother and how that affects her relationships with other people; whether it’s a man running from his past and trying to do what’s best for his wife and daughter; whether it’s someone being corrupted by an ancient and powerful evil…
There are fun things that can be explored with characters who, like me, have self-doubts, have confidence issues, maybe respond in not “the best” way. But knowing that things will probably all work out in the end!
P.L.: Who are some of your favourite authors? What are you currently reading? Any book recommendations?
L.L.: I’m currently listening to The Heroic Age Trilogy audiobook by Rob J. Hayes. I’m up to the third book now, Spirits of Vengeance, and I’ve had an absolute blast with the books so far! I’m also reading The Witness For The Dead by Katherin Addison (sequel to The Goblin Emperor, which was one of my favourite reads from last year) – highly recommend both!
I’m always shouting about some other books I’ve read and loved, so I’ll do so here:
- Wolfeater by Anthony Mitchell
- Last Gifts of The Universe by Rory August
- Rise Red Kingdom by Kerstin Espinosa Rosero
- Thirteenth Hour by Trudie Skies
- Iron Truth by S.A. Tholin
P.L.: Those are some marvellous titles, many of them on my TBR, and one I’ve read, and found to be a great book (13th Hour) ! What do you believe is the most challenging part of being a self-published author?
L.L.: There are a number of challenges. Dealing with the stigma (“oh you clearly weren’t good enough for trad”), the isolation of doing everything yourself, and the fact it’s a constant learning curve. What worked last year may not work this year, as everything is constantly changing. It would be nice if all you had to do was write a book and then think about the next one, but there’s so much more to it than that. Even if you are traditionally published, it’s not that simple either – you’re expected to market, to research, to promote.
I think it’s hard when you don’t know what you don’t know. I see so many of the same questions about self-publishing cropping up online, and poor or outdated advice being given, or people being discouraged, and it’s a bit of a minefield to try and navigate.
Learning there are “many ways up the mountain” so to speak, and if you try something another author has said worked for them, but it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, necessarily!
It’s a marathon not a sprint, so I would say the biggest challenge is probably not giving up even if you can’t see a way forward?
P.L.: Seems to me like you’re overcoming those challenges well, and thriving! Can you disclose any current projects you are working on?
L.L.: Right now, I’m working on the second book in the Dragon Spirits series, The Shadow Gate! Audiobook production has also started for the recently released Moroda second edition, which is exciting! It would be great if both of those are out before the end of 2022, but one or both might be early 2023, we’ll see.
I’m also very excited to be working on a dark fantasy/horror anthology with some of the best SFF indie authors around, which is pretty awesome and surreal! I can’t say more than that right now, but watch this space!
P.L.: L.L., it has been an honour to speak to you for Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!
You can buy personalised signed/lined/dated paperbacks directly from the author’s website: https://llmacrae.com/ All eBooks are exclusively available on Amazon.